3 February 2021

Democracy Is a Long Shot

What does a legitimate election look like?

Ryan S. Jeffery

In her 2006 feature film My Country, My Country, Laura Poitras documents the immense amount of work that goes into the appearance of an election’s legitimacy. The election in question was for the Iraqi parliament in 2005, the first since the US occupation in 2003. For the US military planners and UN officials, legitimacy was paramount. And yet, regardless of context, the project of self-rule—or, rather, its appearance—never ceases to face this challenge. “This is what democracy looks like” becomes “This is what legitimacy looks like.” ...

14 January 2021

Wherever We Are Gathered

The Black Arts School and its afterlives

Joshua Bennett

One of the more difficult parts of raising a Black child in the United States of America—and it bears mentioning from the beginning that the joys are innumerable—is the question of where they will go to school. Most of us know, through both memory and a wealth of empirical data testifying to this difficult truth, that the classroom is a battleground. It is a site of suffering. It is, in the first instance, a space wherein our hair, our diction, our social practices and modes of cognition are denigrated as a matter of institutional mission and everyday protocol. ...

5 January 2021

Myth Lessons

The carceral state and the limits of sentimental realism

Matthew Spellberg

The Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1994, is widely considered to be the capstone in the architecture of American mass incarceration. Among its many harsh provisions was a measure forbidding prisoners from receiving Pell Grants, the most important form of debt-free aid the government offers for higher education. Until 1994, there had been hundreds of college programs operating in the nation’s prisons. ...

15 December 2020

Abolitionist Alternatives

Black radicalism and the refusal of reform

Che Gossett

The political contours of the early modern Black abolitionist movement were shaped by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Tubman, and countless others in their everyday forms of resistance, and politically enunciated in the flashpoints of rebellions, uprisings, and insurgency against the violence of racial slavery. Abolitionist solidarity in the early period fractured along the fault lines of the political antagonism of anti-blackness. This chasm between abolitionist camps was the result of an incommensurable parallax. ...

8 December 2020

No Man’s Land

The architecture of abolition

Elleza Kelley

These days I get anxious in the cemetery when I see people having picnics and doing yoga, though I wonder if the dead don’t mind. I think maybe the dead are grateful for the children feeding ducks in the pond, climbing over their headstones, playing on the mausoleum benches without fear. Happy to be seen not as toxic or terrifying but as present, gentle, loved. I don’t know. ...

29 October 2020

Hidden Enemies

An American history of taqiyya

Joshua Craze

The first time someone told me they knew my real identity, I was—naturally enough—in Florida. It was 2009, and a colleague and I were doing research for a piece on counterterrorism training for American law enforcement. We had attended a class in Broward County, where the trainer had gleefully joked about Muhammed’s pedophilia with Transport Security Administration officials, who then enthused that they were now ready to spot the terrorists threatening Miami International Airport. ...

13 October 2020

Unpaid Debt

The Freedman’s Bank and the abandonment of Black America

Yong Kwon

No people can well rise to a high degree of mental or even moral excellence without wealth. A people uniformly poor and compelled to struggle for barely a physical existence will be dependent and despised by their neighbors, and will finally despise themselves.
—Frederick Douglass

On May 29th, the fourth day of nationwide protests against racialized police brutality, protesters in Washington, DC sprayed graffiti on the walls of the Treasury Department annex on Lafayette Square called the Freedman’s Bank Building. ...

1 September 2020

Poor Connections

A long history of videotelephony

Vera Tollmann

Video conferencing becomes popular in times of crisis. During the early 1990s Gulf War and especially in the aftermath of 9/11, when executives temporarily lost trust in air travel, the use of this communication technology became more common as a business tool. This winter, the immobility and social distancing necessitated by the global spread of COVID-19 triggered again an urgent need for video conferencing technology. ...

13 August 2020

Geographical Amusement

The rise of the cartographic board game

Colton Valentine

In 1795, Henry Carington Bowles released Bowles’s European Geographical Amusement, or Game of Geography, the latest in his family’s board game series. Allegedly based on a 1749 travelogue, “the Grand Tour of Europe, by Dr. Nugent,” it combined learned pretensions with simple rules. “Having agreed to make an elegant and instructive TOUR of EUROPE,” players took turns rolling an eight-sided “Totum” and moving their “Pillars” through the appropriate number of cities. ...

6 August 2020

Animal Farms

A porcine history of East Germany’s rise and fall

Thomas Fleischman

“It is a sort of fairy story,” George Orwell wrote to his literary agent in 1944, “really a fable with a political meaning.” The fable was Animal Farm, and in it, Orwell set out to destroy the “Soviet myth” and the cult of Stalin. In our time, Animal Farm has become a standard part of any school education. In August 1945, when it was published in the United Kingdom, and in April 1946 when it came out in the United States, it was political dynamite. ...